Study Fails to Link Fracking to Widespread Surface Water Impacts
A new study published in the journal Science examined links between fracking in the United States and possible impacts on surface water, and a close look at the findings shows the authors did not make a such substantial connection and repeatedly acknowledged they had limited evidence to back up any claims of contamination.
The researchers – from University of Navarra in Spain, University of Chicago, and University of Bristol in the United Kingdom – even acknowledged to the media that since their study was completed, fracking technology has continued to improve leading to even better outcomes.
Still, the study was picked up by several media outlets that gave credence to possibilities of contamination, without any deeper examination, and some of which used sensational headlines that in no way reflects what’s actually shown in the study.
Here is what you need to know about this study:
Limited Evidence for Surface Water Contamination Confirms EPA Study
The authors begin their study by recalling a previous study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found no strong evidence linking fracking and water impacts.
“The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed and synthetized scientific evidence concerning the impact of [hydraulic fracturing] on US water resources. The final report concluded that HF activities can affect drinking water resources under some circumstances (17), but the report did not identify widespread evidence of contamination.” (emphasis added)
The authors then state that their own research more specifically looked at surface water and had an even weaker connection between fracking and contamination:
“For surface water, the evidence is more limited.”
In fact, the study even says issues with water quality could be attributed to factors completely outside of oil and natural gas production:
“The authors of this study suggest that both insufficient wastewater treatment and building infrastructure for unconventional O&G extraction could explain the results. Evidence also exists for barium concentrations in Pennsylvania being higher in areas with unconventional wells than in areas without them, but the authors of this study point out that this evidence cannot be solely ascribed to unconventional wells, as it could also reflect the presence of basin brines or a sulfate decrease in acid rains.”
Insufficient Data Gathering
If the authors, or the media, are looking to claim that fracking impacts surface water, this study did not provide sufficient data to support that claim. The authors write:
“As wells can be far from the closest monitor (in our sample, average = 10.3 km and median = 8.2 km), we examined whether the associations between HF wells and ion concentrations are more pronounced when wells and monitors are closer together. However, the sparsity of water measurements makes such distance gradient analyses challenging.” (emphasis added)
At Most, Minimal Impact
Even when the authors do claim to find some evidence, they find minimal impacts:
“We acknowledge that the long-run impact estimates we documented using all watershed monitors are very small in magnitude.”
The authors then state that evidence they find doesn’t exceed health limits:
“But even the 360-day concentration increases implied by these estimates do not exceed EPA limits or health advisory levels for the ions.”
Fracking Technology Keeps Getting Better
Fracking technology in the United States is constantly improving – which has numerous benefits for the climate, air quality, and health.
The authors even have the same viewpoint and stated that the health and safety practices of American operations have improved even more since the study was completed.
As The Hill reported:
“The researchers will conclude a follow-up study on the effects of disclosure rules in about another month, but Leuz said ‘the current results suggest that practices became cleaner and had less impact.’” (emphasis added)